Luc Barthelet, executive director of Wolfram Research, which also makes the software program Mathematica, says that the week the iPhone 4S, featuring Siri, came out, the number of queries to Wolfram Alpha increased 20-fold.
Wolfram makes money by selling apps and collecting fees from partners, not from ads. Rather than providing a page of links in response to a query, Wolfram Alpha provides direct answers to questions like “Who was the 17th president?” or “What are the biggest cities in the world?” Barthelet says that Google, which also offers voice recognition on Android phones, could do the same thing. “But what would happen to Google’s business model if they just provided answers? They want users to look at the results. That’s what makes their ad space valuable.”
Google faces other threats. There is Facebook, with its 800 million users, and also dedicated phone apps that, for example, will check bus routes or find movie listings. Like these, Apple’s voice aid offers a novel way to interact with information on the Internet. Michael Thompson, senior vice president of the mobile division of Nuance Communications, whose speech-recognition software powers Siri, claims the technology is “taking away the toll-booth functionality of the search portals.”
Others doubt that Siri can steal Google’s thunder in online advertising, because voice recognition is still imperfect and most people researching major purchases will continue to do so on home or office computers. Still, ad dollars will follow searchers, whatever tools they use. Ralph Paglia, a consultant at Tier10Marketing who advises car dealerships on digital marketing strategy, says he is now advising clients they should pay for premium listings on Yelp so that Siri users can find them. “I don’t care if they’re in the office or at home. People will use Siri in a wide range of circumstances,” Paglia says.
Google didn’t respond to questions about Siri, but its executives have begun talking about Apple’s product. In September, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt called Siri a totally “new approach to search technology” in testimony submitted to Congressional antitrust investigators. Schmidt was hoping to convince Congress that Google doesn’t have an unfair monopoly in search. “History shows that popular technology is often supplanted by entirely new models,” Schmidt said.